Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sonny Tabor: Radio Hero or Radio Ghost?

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the Westwood branch of the Los Angeles City Library. It was a great experience; for one thing, it was at least 100 degrees outside or felt like it, so the library was a nice cool shelter from the heat wave. In addition, this was the first presentation I had given in about two months, and it felt good to be back in the saddle again (so to speak). I needed the rest, but I also missed giving the talk! I love talking about pulp fiction and how I found my grandfather's memoir, Pulp Writer. So even if only a few people show up, or twenty, or seventy, it doesn't matter to me. I still love doing it. It's guaranteed that I will meet at least one interesting person at each talk, so that makes it all worthwhile.

One of the things that I cart around to each presentation is a recording of a Sonny Tabor radio series. It is an actual album record that says it plays at 33 1/3 rpm, but I have yet to play the thing. Even though it should be fairly easy to play this if you had one of those things called a turntable (which are probably close to extinct by now), this one is a little different: it's gigantic. The record is 16" in diameter, making it too big to play on a regular turntable.

I take it to the presentations because the Sonny Tabor radio series holds a special place in my heart. For those of you who don't know the story, the radio series was the springboard to my finding my grandfather's lost history as a pulp fiction writer. When I first started researching my grandfather's past, all I knew about him was that he had written a novel, "Doc Dillahay," published in 1949, and had also written a story, "Spook Riders on the Overland," that was published as a Little Big Book (and no, that's not a typo, it's the name given the books by the Saalfield company, as opposed to the competition, the Big Little Books). He wrote this story under the pen name Ward M. Stevens.

So when I was going to school at Smith College in 1998 (it's a long story how I got to Smith. If you ask me, I'll be more than glad to tell you) I decided that I wanted to find out more about my grandfather. One day I ran his pen name Ward Stevens on the library database. Up popped four titles of Western stories. One was the Spook Riders on the Overland book I had as a kid, another had the name Kid Wolf in the title, and another was "The Ranger and the Cowboy: a Sonny Tabor story."

Now, this was when the Internet was just starting to take off. As a forty year old student, I was still thinking I would have to go to the card catalog to get information. Old habits die hard. So I thought I was going to had a tough time finding out any more information. But a few weeks later, a librarian at Smith said that she would help me, and boy, did she. One day she ran the name Sonny Tabor on the library database. I had ran the name Sonny Tabor before under "book titles" and had not found anything else. But Pam ran a search for Sonny Tabor under a search criteria for "series." And what she showed me was a shocker.

There were 18 Sonny Tabor radio scripts held at an archives at Syracuse University. Radio scripts? Since when was my grandfather involved in a radio show? News to me, and my mother didn't recall anything about a radio show. The was no specific date on the search result page, and the date shown was "? 1940 - 1949". The only other clue was that the name of the archive was "Street & Smith."

I ran an Internet search on Street & Smith and found out that they had been the biggest publisher of pulp fiction magazines as well as a number of other media for roughly 70 years, from the late 1800s to the mid 1950s, when they were bought by Conde Nast. Syracuse Univeristy held the archives for Street & Smith, which included my grandfather's main bread and butter, Wild West Weekly magazine.

As they say, the rest is history.

As for the radio show, some of this is still a mystery. I ordered a microfiche of the actual radio scripts and looked at them while I was still at Smith. There is no author, no date, nothing except good old plain old time radio dialogue:

"Script One:

VOICE: SONNY! SONNY TABOR!

VOICE I: ADVENTURER!

SOUND: SHOT

VOICE II: RANGER!

SOUND: SHOT

VOICE III: UNDERCOVER MAN!

SOUND: SHOT

VOICE IV: SONNY TABOR! RIDING WITH THE CIRCLE J!

SOUND: THREE SHOTS....HORSES UP..FAST..HOLD FOR CUE...

ANNOUNCER: WHEN SLIM LOWRIE, SONNY TABOR'S PAL, WAS SHOT......


My grandfather wasn't even sure if his brainchild had ever made it as a radio series; the editors of Wild West Weekly had told him that they were trying to turn him into a show, but Grandpa was never sure if it ever took place. Which explains why my mother didn't know anything about it. I'm sure he never got paid for it. As he talks about in Pulp Writer, once the writers signed the back of those checks they received from Street & Smith, they signed over all of the rights to that story, lock, stock and barrel.

One of the attendees at the presentation yesterday mentioned that this recording was actually a gift given to sponsors way back when the series was still around; it was never an album meant to be sold to the public. He said there are some old time radio clubs around that have the proper equipment to play the album.

So now, if I can find someone with the old radio playing equipment, I may be able to hear it, even if Grandpa never did.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dodging Tax Time and Talking About the Pulps

I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to even think about posting a new blog. Getting my taxes done was the big project for the past few weeks. I'm not one of these people that has her act together and posts receipts during the year - I throw all of mine into an envelope (that ends up being two or three or four by years end) and then stress out in January and February sorting through all of the mess. You'd think I would learn otherwise but nooo.... Maybe I just enjoy the trip down memory lane of going through receipts from the past year, thinking, "oh yeah, that was a great restaurant," or "ouch! I paid how much for that computer???" and realizing that one of my biggest expenses was dog food and vet bills. Or at least it seems that way.

But taxes are done, spring is in the air, and I had a great dinner at Nikko's in San Pedro - great place to eat and very reasonable. Things are lookin' up - the Dodgers have won two in a row! And maybe three - it's the bottom of the 4th right now in the 3rd game of the series against the Giants and it's 0-0. but now it's raining. I'm very excited about this season, for obvious reasons (i.e. Joe Torre) but it's a restrained excitement. I'm hopeful, but I don't want to be crushed like I did last year - man, that meltdown in August was ugly. I hope they all learned their lesson.

I have another presentation coming up soon - August 12 at the Westwood branch of the Los Angeles Library. The address is 1246 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024. Phone is (310) 474-1739. I'm looking forward to it - there was a period a few months ago when I was getting a little tired of doing them - but now I've taken a six week break and I'm rarin' to go again.

For those of you who aren't familiar with my presentation, I give about an hour talk about the history of pulp fiction magazines. I start the presentation by telling people how I found my grandfather's manuscript for Pulp Writer, his career as a pulp fiction writer for Wild West Weekly and Weird Tales, and then give a overview of pulp fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. It's just right for those who don't know anything about the subject. And there are a lot of people out there who don't. I don't know how many times I told people that I was writing about "pulp fiction" and they would say, "Oh, you mean the movie?" And for those who do know a lot about the pulps, it works for them too, because I talk a lot about Wild West Weekly, one of the lesser known magazines.

So if you're in the neighborhood....Westwood is a good place to visit - very near the UCLA campus and, if I'm not mistaken, in the Westwood village where there are a bunch of cute shops and restaurants and movie theaters, so you can have lunch beforehand. Then come by the "libary" as I used to call it - the program starts at 2 p.m.

And now I'm off - the Dodgers are ahead 1-0, my favorite pitcher Chad Billingsley is on the mound....but wait, there's a rain delay - just in time to turn the channel to American Idol! What a night! Go David Cook!